#250 – Trawling the Classroom

For a host of reasons, teachers shouldn’t use their classrooms as trawling grounds for dates with attractive parents. From an ethics perspective, a teacher pursuing an amorous relationship with a student’s mother or father creates an undesired perception of favoritism toward the student. In terms of child psychology, no student wants to suffer embarrassment from classmates’ taunts due to his teacher’s romantic targeting of his parent. And from the educational system’s standpoint, kids nowadays have a hard enough time learning without having to deal with teachers distracted by efforts to score a new stepchild from the student pool. While most people, including educators, recognize and agree with these concerns, a few require a kick in the ass to properly reorient their moral compasses. Take Mr. Rogers, for instance.

Mr. Rogers (that’s his name, really) is my mentee’s long-term substitute. He’s filling in for Ernie’s regular teacher while she recuperates from an emergency surgical procedure. In the meantime, the substitute has added a new item to the third-grade core curriculum: namely, his pursuit of Ernie’s single mother. Mr. Rogers met her the day she returned her son to school after the boy’s unwarranted expulsion last week.

As my mentee related at our session today, Mr. Rogers lost no time in soliciting Ernie’s aid for courting purposes. In the process, the man’s actions highlighted each of the concerns against teacher-parent dating. Immediately upon Ernie’s return to class, the new substitute teacher interrupted his lesson plan to question the lad, within hearing of the other students, about his mother’s availability and potential interest. Mr. Rogers also offered to provide one-on-one tutoring at Ernie’s home, and perhaps to stay for dinner afterwards. After this public interrogation, my mentee’s classmates began taunting him with renditions of “Ernie’s mom and Mr. Rogers sitting in a tree, k.i.s.s.i.n.g. …”

Mr. Rogers sounds like a world-class douchebag, and an ethically challenged one to boot! Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong kid to screw with for the sake of a date. Ernie told me that after two days of similar misconduct from the substitute and teasing from his peers, he’d had enough. When Mr. Rogers outright begged him to investigate his mother’s interest in dating her son’s teacher, the exasperated boy responded with a firm: “Fuck No!”

According to Ernie, Mr. Rogers initially reacted to his student’s off-color, impudent exclamation by threatening a trip to the Principal’s office and severe disciplinary action. Ernie deemed a visit to the Principal an excellent idea, and said so, explaining (in third-grade English of course) how he’d love to discuss the school’s policy on a teacher using classroom time to pursue a relationship with a parent. 

Ernie didn’t go to the Principal that day or otherwise get punished for his unsavory outburst. Best of all, since resetting the substitute’s moral compass, he hasn’t heard another word about his mother’s romantic inclinations.

 
 
Like its physical counterpart, a moral compass should always point north.

#251 – Signs of Racism

As I’ve said before, my wife and I aren’t racists. No elements in our home are intended to convey such an impression either. But try telling that to the African-American plumber who visited us today.

I’d called the plumber due to a leaky bathroom sink. An older gentleman, he seemed far more attuned to racial overtones than younger blacks who may not have experienced blatant bigotry firsthand. At least, that’s the impression I drew in the minutes before the irate tradesman stormed from our abode. He certainly had a lot to say during his brief stay, lecturing me on symbols of hatred (like swastikas, confederate flags and burning crosses) and old-time signs of segregation in restaurants, public pools and other places.  

Before he departed, I tried to tell him that not every symbol and sign evidences racism. Here, for instance, I’m guilty of nothing more than an inability to do a proper load of laundry. Two weeks earlier, I’d accidentally bleached and shrunk Sophia’s favorite blouse. Due to the botched job, she’d imposed strict restrictions on my use of our laundry room. Specifically, she forbid me from ever again attempting to wash or dry any clothing containing even a hint of color.

The plumber didn’t buy my explanation though. As he made clear before bidding me an unfriendly adieu — without fixing our sink, I might add — a man trusts his eyes more than his ears; and his eyes told him he’d entered a den of haters. I might’ve agreed with him in principle under other circumstances. In this case, however, I’m certain Sophia only meant to remind me of my limited washer and dryer privileges. I’m sure she didn’t intend to preclude the plumber or any other African-American from entering our laundry room, when she decorated its door with a “Whites Only” sign.

 
 
A hopefully bygone sign of segregation

#252 – Be My Valentine

At breakfast this morning, my friend Tracy told me a story which demonstrates the wisdom of two well-worn expressions: “seize the day”; and “you’re never too old for love.” The tale involved my favorite old lady, Betsy, and her unusual Valentine’s Day experience.

I’ve previously written about the near fatal heart attack 90-years-young Betsy suffered in November.  Thankfully, she’s made a remarkable recovery and finally seems back to her feisty self. She’s even healthy enough to date a gentleman admirer, if she wishes. As it happens, she met an 85-year-old suitor during a visit to her cardiologist last month, and he’s been doggedly pursuing her.

Despite a ticker as wonky as hers, if not worse, “Jerome” clearly refused to let ill-health and advancing age inhibit his quest for love. After Betsy’s initial rebuff at the doctor’s office, he embarked on a flower-laden endeavor to erode her resistance. Every day for the following three weeks, a florist delivered a fresh cut bouquet to her door, together with a note from Jerome requesting her presence for a Valentine’s Day outing. Each of those notes included a pithy expression reflecting his philosophy on life and romance, including: “carpe diem”; “age is an attitude”; “where there’s life, there’s love”; and “It’s okay to plan ahead, even if there’s no tomorrow.”

Until recently, Betsy dismissed Jerome’s advances. She told Tracy she’s too old to mess around with a man. After each floral delivery, when Tracy asked her grandmother what she wanted to do with the flowers, Betsy replied with her patented catchphrase: “Fuck ’em!”

Surprisingly, Jerome’s persistence eventually wore Betsy down. The week before Valentine’s Day, she ceased instructing her granddaughter to trash the bouquets, acknowledging: “It’s a shame to waste perfectly fine flowers.” Then, two days before Valentine’s, she announced her decision to take Jerome up on his offer. “What the hell,” she told Tracy. “You only live once, and the man is right. I might drop dead tomorrow, but why not makes plans for a date?”

Without further ado, Betsy’d adjourned to her bedroom so she could call Jerome. She returned minutes later, upon which Tracy playfully inquired: “So, where will you and Jerome spend Valentine’s Day?”

Betsy tersely offered the name of a church in reply.

Puzzled, her granddaughter inquired: “You’re going to church for Valentine’s Day?”

“Not the church; the cemetery.”

Incredulous, Tracy exclaimed: “What kind of guy takes a woman to a cemetery for a first date, especially on Valentine’s Day?!”

“A dead one!”

It seems, poor Jerome’s faulty heart gave out on February 7. But the man who believed in planning ahead had previously set up daily floral deliveries to his intended straight up till Valentine’s Day. Given all the effort he’d put in, Betsy figured the least she could do was spend the afternoon with him, even if, as she put it: “we’ll be separated by six feet of dirt and a coffin.”

 
In certain cases, only one wine glass may be needed.

#253 – A Desperate Measure

I love the term “desperate measures.” Usually, I apply it to someone risking life and limb under the most extreme circumstances. Occasionally though, it fits where no one stands in peril of death or dismemberment, as in the story I heard this morning.

The prospective client who met with me, “Cad,” wanted his marriage annulled. He’d done his homework too. Rather than await my explanation of the law, he offered me two grounds for his case: duress and fraudulent inducement.

I asked Cad how long he’d been married. He said: “Nine years!”

When I informed him a nine-year marriage couldn’t be annulled, he corrected himself: “We’ve been together nine years, but we’ve only been married a week.”

“You’re telling me you’ve been with the same woman nine years; you finally married her; and you want out of the relationship after a single week?”

Shrugging his shoulders, he responded: “I know it sounds bad, but I never wanted to get married in the first place!”

“So what happened, and how were you coerced or defrauded into marrying your fiancé?” I asked.

“We weren’t actually engaged. For the past six years or so, Deb’s been telling me our relationship needs to move forward or end. I loved her, but I also liked things as they were. When she ratcheted up the pressure, I promised her we’d get married someday. For six years, I answered ‘someday’ every time she asked ‘when?’.”

“She put up with that?”

“Yeah, but she wasn’t happy. Even so, until recently she didn’t do anything about it. But last Sunday, she told me she wanted to treat me to brunch at a nice restaurant after church. Who doesn’t like brunch? Of course, I agreed. We got there and the hostess led us to a private dining room. Instead of tables and food stations, the room had a center aisle surrounded by two columns of chairs, with our friends and relatives sitting in them! Deb steered me to the front, where our parents waited with a Justice of the Peace … and a marriage license!”

I couldn’t help myself; I laughed on the inside and smirked on the outside as Cad continued. “I must’ve looked like one of those deer in the headlights: staring back and forth between my parents, her parents and her, without saying a word. Deb gave me one of her ‘shut up and do as you’re told’ looks and said: ‘Honey, for years now you’ve promised to marry me someday. Well, good news. Your ‘someday’ has arrived!’”

“What could I do?” Cad protested. “With our parents standing there and all our friends and family gathered, I had no choice but to sign the license and say ‘I do,’ even though I really ‘didn’t’.”

Like I advised Cad this morning, when Georgia established duress and fraudulent inducement as grounds for an annulment, I’m pretty sure the law’s sponsors had more in mind than a false promise of Sunday brunch and the presence of the couples’ parents in the room.

 
Sunday brunch, where reservations may be required, but not much else.

#254 – Surprise, Fatso!

Jimmy, Ron and I had a roundtable discussion about weight loss programs this morning. In particular, the three of us debated whether a membership in one can ever be a suitable gift for one’s wife. None of us want to see our woman third-world thin; still, we’d rather forego having spouses whose dress sizes run in double digits. The question was, what can a man do when he sees his formerly svelte bride heading in that ominous direction?

All of us agreed, an unsolicited membership in a diet program is a definite no-no. Unless a husband wants to guaranty a month or more of enforced celibacy, he shouldn’t tell his beloved: “Honey, I couldn’t help but notice you’re getting a bit chunky, so I signed you up for ‘WeightWatchers’.”

The closer call arises when a wife complains about her extra pounds and expresses a desire to lose them. Even if he secretly agrees with her, the wise husband either keeps his mouth shut or answers “nonsense.” Jimmy, Ron and I were in accord on that point. But if the man inwardly applauds his spouse’s desire to shed her unwanted fat, can he help her along with the gift of a program membership? On that subject, the three of us differed.

I said I subscribe to the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus view of the situation. In other words, if your Mrs. doesn’t expressly ask you to obtain the membership for her, then don’t. When she complains about her weight, at most you can ask: “is there anything I can do to help?” Then hope she takes you up on the offer.

Jimmy disagreed. In his opinion, under certain circumstances a man can take action without offending his beloved. For instance, if she vowed to slim down at the turn of a year, he could present a diet program membership as her “New Year’s resolution gift,” and probably get away with it.

Ron couldn’t decide if my slant or Jimmy’s made more sense. As of this morning, he could only point out a method which definitely doesn’t work: “Even if your wife tells you ‘I’ve got to get rid of all this blubber,’ whatever you do, don’t surprise her with a ‘Jenny Craig’ membership on Valentine’s Day … like I did.”

 
Two traditional Valentine’s Day presents

#255 – The Love Meter

While chatting last week, my friend Ava once again bemoaned the crappy attitude of her youngest son. Unlike his fifteen-year-old brother, thirteen-year-old Luke shows his mother no respect, underachieves in school, and treats his home like a garbage dump. I half-jokingly told Ava she wouldn’t have these problems if she’d stop treating the two boys equally. As I put it: “Why show both kids you love them the same, when Luke seems far less deserving than Stephen?”

Facetiously, more or less, I suggested that Ava implement a “love meter” for her teenagers. It would graphically represent the love periodically earned by each son. The meter would rise on instances of good behavior, kindness and respect, and fall for crimes of sloth, disregard and insult. And most importantly, the meter’s levels would translate into concrete rewards and penalties!

Of course, Ava scoffed at my proposal. The more I pondered it though, the more I believed it could work, albeit in a perverse way. I consequently prepared a mockup, so my friend could see exactly what I had in mind. Yesterday, I e-mailed the results. Here’s what I sent:

Behavior                                                   Love Points

Saying “I love you mom”                                                       +20

Cleaning your room                                                               +30

“A” on report card                                                                  +50

Doing your own laundry                                                         +40

Doing your parents’ laundry too                                             +80

Miscellaneous act of kindness toward mother                          +20 – +100

Cursing                                                                                 -25

Smoking                                                                               -50

Drinking alcohol                                                                    -50

Doing drugs                                                                          -100

“C” or below on report card                                                   -30

Saying “I hate you mom”                                                     -100

Throwing your dirty underwear on the floor                           -10

Miscellaneous negative behavior                                            -20 – -100

 

Love Rewards/Penalties                             Points Needed

One night extended curfew                                                  200

New video game                                                                  200

Latest iPhone                                                                      1000

Leather jacket                                                                     1000

Cool tattoo                                                                          5000

Sports car for seventeenth birthday                                     20000

Named sole beneficiary under mother’s Will                          50000

Grounded one week                                                            -300

Left at home on next family vacation                                  -1000

Disowned                                                                           -20000

 

I heard back from Ava this morning. As she informed me, she’d printed out my “stupid Love Meter” and associated tables and left the documents in her desk drawer, where her snooping younger son discovered them last night. Papers in hand, the indignant youth had confronted his mother, demanding to know: “What the fuck is this?!”

Everyone has a breaking point, and the combination of cursing and obvious snooping activated Ava’s. She snatched the documents from her son, scanned the pages and announced: “It’s exactly what it says; and you’ve just lost another hundred and twenty-five love points! Keep this crap up and you’ll never get that iPhone you want. In fact, you’ll be well on your way to being disowned!”

After a restless sleep, Ava awoke feeling extremely guilty. She planned to apologize to her son as soon as she dressed and tell him the Love Meter was nothing but her idiot friend’s joke. But before she left the bed, Luke knocked on the door. He entered bearing a breakfast platter he’d prepared specially for her. Setting down the tray, he kissed his astonished mother on the cheek, told her “I love you mom,” and left the room.

Ava knows she’ll have to come clean to her son, and she said she’ll definitely tell him the truth … “in a week or two, or at worst once the school year ends.”

 

#256 – The Irony of It

Don’t ask me why, but I’m fascinated with the subject of ironic deaths. My prototypical example is the passing of Jim Fixx. In the 70’s, he was a celebrated advocate of good health promoted by running, and he authored a book titled The Complete Book of Running. He died from a heart attack suffered while running. More recently, I spotted a slightly different but equally absurd example of the genre in an Atlanta Journal Constitution article, titled: “Undersea documentarian killed in helicopter crash.” I’ve often tried to imagine my own ironic expiration as well, but I’ve never been able to conceive a suitable scenario, until last night.

After reading the AJC story a couple of weeks ago, I’d revisited my efforts to construct an appropriate headline for my own extinction. I failed, again, but the exercise did not prove fruitless. While musing on the topic, I discovered that my wife had cleared space from our DVR – for more of her beloved “Real Housewives” episodes – by erasing my as-yet-unviewed, five-hour, Super Bowl pregame show! I headed straight for my computer and vented my displeasure with the creation of a newspaper-style piece inspired by the incident. I titled it: “Real housewife in Georgia beaten to death by enraged husband, while watching recorded episode of ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta.’” After printing the article, I left it on my desk and promptly forgot about it.

I hate guns, but I do believe in protecting myself from home invasions. Consequently, in every residence I’ve lived in, except for our present abode, I’ve always kept a golf club within reach for self-defense. Last night, while restocking our toilet paper from the basement supply, I passed my golf bag. I realized I’d never pulled out a club for defense in this house. Despite my wife’s possession of a loaded pistol in her bedside dresser, I thought it high time to secure my own means of protection. So I grabbed a two iron and headed upstairs with it.

While I visited the basement, Sophia lay in bed watching, what else, one of the “Real Housewives” shows. She spied my return when I reached the top of the staircase, with the two iron resting atop my shoulder. That’s when I learned my wife had come across the fake news article on my desk, inconveniently dated for the following morning’s edition. At the same time, I at last received inspiration for an appropriately ironic headline detailing my demise, titled: “Wise-ass firearm hater shot to death by overly cautious wife … who failed to get the joke.”

 
 
One means of defense against home invasion

#257 – Oh Say Can You See?

A couple of weeks ago, I told the third grader I mentor my philosophy on booing etiquette. I rehashed much of that conversation today, at the boy’s elementary school. Except this time it wasn’t Ernie who listened to my discourse, but his Principal. 

My mentee had raised the subject of booing when I saw him after the Super Bowl. Having caught the game for the first time, he couldn’t get over the stream of invective leveled at the Patriots by his mother’s new boyfriend, who’d watched the event with them. Since Ernie’d been taught in school to treat people with respect, he wondered whether calling athletes bad names constituted an exception to the general rule. He also questioned whether other exceptions exist.

As I explained, certain situations require spirited booing, sports being one of them. Athletes expect fans to root for one team over another, to curse at the opposition, and to hiss at their chosen team’s players who mess up.

After hearing my view, Ernie asked: “What about the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’?” As he proceeded to explain, after Kelly Clarkson sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl, his mother’s boyfriend had exclaimed: “At least she didn’t screw it up, like some of these singers do.”

“So, what’s your question?” I asked.

“If the lady got the words wrong, would it be okay to boo her?”

In answer, I opined that everyone performing the national anthem in front of an audience should take the time to learn the words. If they don’t, then they deserve to be jeered for dishonoring the symbolic song.

I reiterated my belief to the school’s Principal this morning, much as Ernie had done this past Friday. In response, the Principal gave me the same lecture he’d imparted to Ernie: “Booing a pop star at a professional sporting event might be acceptable, but calling a fifth-grader ‘stupid’ and ‘moron’ when she forgets the words to the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ at an elementary school assembly certainly is not.”

 
 
One should take care to learn the words before singing our national anthem

#258 – The End of Snip Snip?

As an agnostic liberal, I number myself among a tiny minority in Georgia. I rarely involve myself in political debates with my red-state compatriots, because logic seldom figures in the discussions, and I’m not going to win an argument centered on religion. Thus, while I’m pro-choice by nature, I don’t typically parade abortion views here. I’ll make an exception today though, not as to abortion rights, but rather to express my support for the anti-vasectomy bill sponsored by a female representative in the Georgia legislature.

For those who haven’t heard, a Georgia Democrat has proposed the anti-vasectomy law in reaction to a pending bill which would cut down the time in which a woman can have an unrestricted abortion. Representative Yasmin Neal proposes outlawing vasectomies, except for men who’ll die or suffer dangerous health problems without one. It’s mainly a tongue-in-cheek measure meant to send a message to the legislature’s male Republicans, and I doubt anyone sees the slightest possibility of an act getting passed. Nonetheless, I fully support this legislation, and I intend to comport myself as if it’s already enacted, as I informed my wife this morning.

It’s been five months since Sophia countered my complaint about her failure to purchase condoms by scheduling me for a vasectomy. I succeeded in canceling that appointment, and I’ve intentionally sidestepped the issue ever since, despite her periodic reminders. The cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz may’ve accepted a “snip snip here” and a “snip snip there,” but cowardly Richard Stern would sooner enter witness protection than let someone do a “snip snip” on his man-berries.

Representative Neal’s proposed law seemed the answer to my prayers, so to speak. Like I told Sophia at breakfast today – after she again reminded me to “get that vasectomy taken care of” – I consider myself a law-abiding citizen, and I feel duty bound to honor this new legislation, unless and until it’s tabled.

Silly me; I thought I’d finally put the kibosh on this issue. While Sophia didn’t say a word this morning, she found her voice once more this afternoon … after she’d located the sparse information on Representative Neal’s bill: “Richard, her proposal exempts men who’d die or suffer dangerous health problems without a vasectomy. You know I own a gun, and I can promise you that your health’ll be in serious danger if you don’t get one!”

 
The place where I’ve been instructed to make an appointment, anti-vasectomy law or not.

#259 – The Marital Labyrinth

At yesterday’s monthly bar luncheon, a few of us informally competed with stories about our strangest cases. I won first prize! 

Not long after my admission to the Georgia Bar, a man sought my help in a “family matter.” I expected something unusual from the outset, because he presented the facts as if they’d happened to his friend. He explained that this “friend” had married a stunning woman. Though she loved him, she longed for motherhood even more. Before agreeing to marry, she elicited his sworn promise to give her children, “one way or the other.” He loved his intended, greatly, but he positively hated kids. Against his vow, he visited a doctor and obtained a vasectomy. The year following their wedding consequently brought sexual bliss to him and frustrated barrenness to her.

This “friend” had revealed the vasectomy solely to his best bosom buddy, and only after said buddy swore to keep his lips sealed. As promised, the man told no one, except of course his own loyal wife — and only after swearing her to secrecy too. She would’ve kept the knowledge to herself, if a) her husband hadn’t run off with his secretary and b) the unwitting, frustrated wife of Mr. secret vasectomy hadn’t commiserated with her, saying: “At least God blessed you with two children during your marriage. He hasn’t seen fit to give us any yet!”

All thoughts of secrecy forgotten, the divorcing woman had replied: “I doubt God had anything to do with it, unless he’s branched out into the vasectomy business!”

I’d interrupted my client to state the obvious: “So, having learned about the procedure, your ‘friend’s’ wife is suing for divorce.”

Not so, my client corrected. Rather than divorce her husband, or even confront him on his duplicity, the thwarted mother opted to enforce the ‘or other’ part of his vow. She approached her male next door neighbor and asked whether, with his wife’s permission, he’d be willing to impregnate her. Several enjoyable attempts, plus nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Again I interrupted: “Got it! Your ‘friend’ knows he can’t be the father and wants to divorce his cheating wife.”

Wrong again. As my client went on to explain, when the wife conceived, she belatedly reminded her husband of his vow and thanked him for fulfilling it. By tacit agreement, she didn’t mention the vasectomy and he didn’t ask how she’d achieved the miracle. The pair remained married and simply pretended husband and father were one and the same. They might’ve continued pretending forever, if the wife hadn’t caught her husband engaging in an extramarital affair, shortly after her child turned four. Her resulting cry of “how could you cheat on me?” apparently hit a nerve, and both of their long-ignored secrets spilled out in the ensuing row.

Once more, I interrupted: “I give up. Who’s suing for divorce, you or your wife?”

My client looked confused. “How’d you know I’m getting a divorce?”

I answered: “Well, you’re obviously the ‘friend,’ and at this point at least one of you must want out.”

He shook his head: “I’m not the “friend;” I’m the neighbor. You see, I didn’t actually ask my wife if I could father another woman’s child. The Mrs. and I were sitting in our living room a few weeks ago when my friend’s son came over and asked if I’m his real dad, like his mom says. Now, my wife wants a divorce!”

 
A lawyer never wants the facts of a case to be this twisted.